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Mick Thomas’ new solo album has an
intriguing title: Coldwater DFU. The record
saw him return to America’s Deep South,
where Weddings Parties Anything made
their third album, The Big Don’t Argue, with
legendary producer Jim Dickinson. Reba
Russell, who sings on the new album, was the
first person to go to Dickinson’s Zebra Ranch
in Coldwater, Mississippi, after he died in
2009. The night before she visited the studio,
Dickinson appeared in her dream, with one
Don’t fuck up.
Those words were ringing in Thomas’ ears
when he made this album, his first in seven
Coldwater is a small town in “hill country”.
Tiny churches dot the landscape. “It’s not
far out of the city, but it gets remote quite
quickly,” Thomas explains. He says Zebra
Ranch is “like driving into the mind of Jim
Dickinson”. The producer loved decay, so the
site is filled with vehicles in various states of
disrepair, and the studio is an old barn behind
a cyclone wire fence. “There’s a funny sense of
The best thing about it? There was no
phone reception, so Thomas and his
band, The Roving Commission
– Mark “Squeezebox Wally”
Wallace, Ben Franz and
Dave Foley – could focus
on the album, without
The initial plan was
and Cody, would
produce the record,
but the brothers
were busy with the
North Mississippi Allstars. “Don’t
worry,” they said, “Kevin Houston will
Thomas had never met the brothers’
childhood friend, who had been Jim
Dickinson’s engineer for 15 years.
But they quickly clicked. “The great
engineers are able to rein in aberrant
personalities, and Jim was certainly
that,” says Thomas, who soon
discovered that Houston was “really
good at steadying the ship”.
Dickinson was fond of saying, “The
misery sticks to the tape”, so Thomas
tries to ensure that every recording
experience is enjoyable. Houston had his own
favourite sayings. “Come on, Wally,” he would
say as he embarked on another take, “make
your mamma proud!”
The result is arguably the finest album of
Thomas’ solo career, a travelogue of tales that
takes the listener to the US, Southeast Asia,
Perth, Melbourne, Learmonth and Ballarat.
The working title for the album had been
“Hysterical Ballads and Whirled Music”,
with Thomas planning a mix of ballads and
songs about swimming. A highlight is
Aqua Profunda, a song about the Fitzroy
Pool, where Thomas is believed to be the
second-longest member. Swimming is his
great release from the pressures of the music
industry. He also enjoys running the Merri
Creek Tavern, a venue in Northcote, where
he is exposed to the work of other local
songwriters. Recent favourites include Rob
Snarski, Lucie Thorne and Van Walker, and
he also admires the work of Sydney singer-
songwriter Perry Keyes.
Thomas still loves touring, “but I’m aware that
I have a family (he has a six-year-old daughter)
and a home life. At my age (59), I don’t want
to do a sleeping-on-the-floor tour.”
He says an artist needs to “cast the net wide,
to find a toehold in funny places”. He enjoys
a good following in parts of England, Europe
and Canada. “I talk to young artists who tell
me, ‘The career path that was open to you
is not open to us now.’ What bullshit! There
was no career path. It was what we found for
As it’s 30 years since The Big Don’t Argue, does
Thomas have any plans to put the band back
together for an anniversary show?
The short answer is no.
“I don’t begrudge anyone doing
anything they want with their
back catalogue. It’s a hard
industry and it’s up to you to
work out how best to exploit
your back catalogue. But
I think we’ve given that
(reunion shows) a pretty
good go, which is not
to say we mightn’t
be up for something
down the track if it
To illustrate his point,
Thomas tells the old
joke where a man asks
a woman if she’d sleep with him for $1
million. “Sure,” she replies. “Well, what
about $50?” The woman is outraged.
“What do you think I am?” “Well,” says
the man, “we’ve already established
what you are.”
Thomas laughs. “I just hope they don’t
do a tour with another singer when I
die. If they do, hopefully it’s not for
Coldwater DFU is available now
NO DOUBTING THOMAS
The Weddings Parties Anything frontman releases a fine new solo album and
pours cold water on thoughts of putting his old band back together.
By Jeff Jenkins
It isn’t easy being one of the finest songwriters this country has produced
when you don’t live in a capital city, have a booking agent, a record label
or much at all of the infrastructure that goes with the business of making
and promoting your creations.
Neil Murray has been writing songs and making records for a long
time now and along the way has created and assembled an extremely
important body of work.
On top of albums with the Warumpi Band, Murray has just released his
ninth solo album of original material. Along the way there’s been that
song called ‘My Island Home’. There’s also been books (most notable
being Sing For Me, Countryman), short stories, a spoken word CD, various
other bits of writing, and a stage play.
Album number nine, Blood & Longing, is as good as anything Murray
has released and contains a potent and powerful collection of songs
that are easily the equal of other much better known and more revered
songwriters and singers.
But for all that Murray continues pretty much by himself, paying for
his own records, booking his own gigs and generally being about as
independent as an independent artist can get.
The opening song on this remarkable collection is ‘Hills Of Burra’
which initially I thought was an autobiographical account of Murray’s
disengagement from the modern world of smart phones, social media
and constant bombardment of information – some of it useful, much of
But even though the character it’s based on may share Murray’s world-
view it’s written from the perspective of a character he met, “on the way
from Gurindji land heading down to Tennant Creek.”
As Murray explains, many of his songs are vignettes reflecting things he
sees and hears on his travels.
“I ran into this cranky old miner guy,” he smiles. “He just told me in no
uncertain terms, ‘fuck the city’. He went back to visit his daughter in the
city at Christmas and said that everyone was just staring at their phones.
He sort of told them off and then cleared out. That song is sort of an
indictment of our world.”
Murray covers a lot of ground – literally and figuratively – on Blood
& Longing. There’s historical narratives such as ‘The Footsteps Of
Blackfella Bob’, and ‘Who Will Ride With Stuart’, a song about Scottish
explorer John McDoull Stuart. There’s a celebration of a post-apocalyptic
survivor in ‘Bjantic Man’ which ties in with the cover art for the album.
Then ‘Cry My Darling’ is a plea for the dying river, Australia’s longest.
It is worth noting that this is an album to buy on CD if at all possible with
the booklet containing informative notes and commentary about many
of the songs.
Put simply Blood & Longing contains some of the finest songs Murray
has ever written. And despite Murray’s slight reservations they sound
“I was happy with the songs,” he says guardedly. “You do the best you
can recording wise. The budget’s not unlimited. And I guess with more
money to throw at it we could have polished it a bit but you have to work
with what you have.
“These are the best of the original songs I’ve written since the last album
I released which was in 2014. I wish I could say I was writing all the time
but I can’t. I admire those people who write every day.
“How I work is that I put all the stuff I write away and when I think I
maybe have enough songs I’ll pull them out and demo them and the
ones that sound the strongest are the ones we record. And I had a look at
these songs and they seemed to hang together pretty well.
“That’s important as I’m still old school in that I see albums like books. I
like to listen to an album from start to finish, in the same way that I start
a book at the beginning and read through to the end.”
It’s more than just a little sad to see someone as ferociously talented
as Murray struggling to find an audience for his songs. Since Blood
& Longing was released he’s played a show in Brisbane and one in
Maroochydore. Six weeks later, towards the end of May, he’s appearing
at the Dancing On The Darling Festival in Menindee, and on June 1 there’s
a gig at Lightning Ridge in NSW. Hardly an extensive run of shows.
“It’s just hard,” Murray says. “I do it all myself. I can’t get a booker to save
myself. I mean, I have a gig in Manly in Sydney in October.”
Blood & Longing is out now via Island Home Music. For more info and
if you’d like to host a house concert by Murray go to www.neilmurray.
Neil Murray has released
one of his finest albums to date
with Blood & Longing
By Stuart Coupe
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